At the Office: Masks and the Macabre!

Take a peek at our Halloween photo booth shots…if you dare.

Hope everyone is having a hauntingly good Halloween!

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Sarah Pinborough: The woman behind the terror!

We finish out the month of AH!-Tober with British female horror author, Sarah Pinborough, the mastermind behind books like The Hidden, The Reckoning, and Feeding Ground. Yesterday we featured a first chapter excerpt from Breeding Ground; it’s on shelves (physical and electronic) now, and is a great read for Halloween.

Today we’re lucky enough to feature an interview with this horror legend.  Get your Deet and Raid ready as we get to know a little more about Sarah, her writing techniques, and tips she has for aspiring authors.

Welcome Sarah! Thanks for joining us!

1.      What made you pick spidery creatures for your books Breeding Ground and Feeding Ground? I know you’re a horror writer, but are there creatures like spiders that creep you out? What’s your Achilles’ heel? 

I can’t actually remember why I chose spiders (the book was written a lot of books ago for me now;-)) but I think it was because they have a tendency to freak people out. And I can think of nothing worse to grow inside me! It’s strange that even in England where our spiders are harmless, people are still terrified of them. Personally they don’t scare me as such but I do shriek if they move too fast. However, I never kill them, just catch them in a glass and pop them outside.

2.      I was really impressed with how seamlessly you voiced Matt, the protagonist in Breeding Ground. As a female author, was it difficult to write from a male perspective? Any tips to your fans and writing audience on writing for a different gender?

I nearly always write from the male perspective—or have a male lead. I’ve just finished a trilogy for Gollancz where nearly all the main characters are male. But then, nearly all my friends are male and I’m not a very girly-girl. I’m not married and I don’t have children nor am I interested in shoes and handbags etc. So I guess maybe on some levels I think like a man anyway! I can’t actually think of a tip for it. I would just say it’s more important to know your character and how they would react in any given situation. If you have that, then the gender should fall in line.

3.      In Breeding Ground, I was really pulling for John and Katie, and truly disliked Nigel. How do you name your characters? Do you pull from names of friends or family members? How do you develop their personalities within the story? Do you tend to map out the characters’ relationships to each other first, or let it develop as you write the manuscript?

I always steal names from real life. Normally one person’s first name and then someone else’s surname. Before I became a full-time writer (nearly four years now! Yay!) I used to use the names of students I taught at school. Now I tend to steal them from Facebook and Twitter. I never map out the relationships between characters, nor do I really think that much about any of them before I write them, apart from the protagonist and antagonist. They tend to develop along with the story.

4.      The setting in Breeding Ground is your hometown, Stony Stratford—how cool! Did you visit home while you were developing this manuscript? Is there really a Hanstone Park in Stony Stratford?

I was only living a mile or so away when I wrote the book so it was easy—partly why I set it there. And Stony is such an epitome of the quaint English village. I also set The Reckoning there but I changed all the names of places, but the layout is the same. As for Hanstone Park, there is a Hanslope Park which is the Foreign Office’s communication centre. Very hush hush. Lots of barbed wire. My dad used to work there.

5.      We’re coming up on National Book Writing Month in November, and I’m venturing to write a novel in 1 month… crazy, I know. How do you come up with your ideas for writing your stories? How long does it take you to write a book, and how many versions do you go through before you submit a manuscript?

Gosh, the ideas question…I don’t think anyone can answer that. Although the more writing you do the more you start to ‘see’ ideas around you. As for writing a book, it really depends on what else I’ve got going on. The current book has taken longer than expected, but I was hired to write some TV at the same time, so of course that slowed me down. I like to get a book done in four months really, but that doesn’t include the thinking time. That’s from when I sit down and write page one. My next books for Quercus may take longer because they’re set in the nineteenth century and so will involve more research. I pretty much hand in my first draft. I plan a lot along the way so when I’m finished, the book is normally pretty tidy. I just go through and check my spellings etc. and then hand it over.

6.      When and why did you begin writing? Breeding Ground has some super detailed passages, and quite a few lead characters—how do you keep up with it all without getting confused?

I’ve always dipped in an out of writing since I was a child but my first novel was The Hidden, published by Leisure at the end of 2004 (thirteen books ago!). As for keeping track of it all—I have notebooks full of jottings, and if you write every day it’s quite easy to remember stuff.

7.      If you could co-write a horror novel with any other author, who would it be and why?

I’m not much of a collaborator really. I have a collaboration I am planning to do with someone who I’m a big admirer of, but I can’t mention it yet!

8.      For those who haven’t read Breeding Ground yet, here’s some background information to help clarify this next question: the apocalypse survivors discover a special trait that’s linked between two characters, Rebecca, and the dog, Chester. 

I’m a huge animal lover, and I know you are too—check out Sarah’s blog to read about her cat, Mr. Effing!  I loved the dog, Chester, in Breeding Ground, and was really pleased with the ending you wrote for the characters of Chester and George. Oftentimes, animals get lost in the plot or serve as background. Why did you decide to feature Chester so heavily in Breeding Ground?

I think I needed to make amends for what I’d done to Teacher in The Reckoning! Actually, I’m just a sucker for pets, and I think they can often be a really good representation of pure goodness in a plot. Or innocence at least. I needed Chester to be a survivor, and therefore gave him the same trait as Rebecca (also enabling the rest to figure out the potential immunity), and we all root for pets in these instances. They’re a reminder of old lives when an apocalypse hits.

9.      Recently you began writing YA Fantasy genre as Sarah Silverwood; how does writing YA Fantasy compare to that of horror writing? What do you miss most from horror when writing fantasy, and vice versa? Any advice to prospective cross-genre authors? What do you love about writing?

To be honest I haven’t written a horror novel in about three years (Feeding Ground was my last), most of my horror has been in short form. My adult novels have been crime with some supernatural elements (although I would say sci-fi rather than horror) and the YA as you mention is fantasy. But it has to be said, both series have been very dark so I’ve still got to play around with fear and the darker elements of fiction.

10.  In the spirit of Halloween, Dorchester is asking spotlight authors to share a dare with your fans…got anything for us?

Oh gosh. Actually this Halloween I shall be in L.A. out and about in Taluca Lake dressed as a witch. My dare is if anyone sees me….come and say hello! ;-)

She’s so interesting, right?! So, we’ve got about 3 days until NaNoWriMo begins! For those of you taking the plunge with me and are interested in writing a horror, you can definitely use some of Sarah’s tips! For the rest of y’all, if you’re in the need for a scare, Sarah definitely delivers! And don’t forget, be kind to the spiders; you never know when they may take over the world!  Leave a comment and be entered to win a copy of Breeding Ground!

Sneak Peek—Pinborough’s BREEDING GROUND

Hi All,

It’s the last full week of Ah!-Tober, and I like to think that we saved the best for last! Author Bill Vaughan once said, We hope that, when the insects take over the world, they will remember with gratitude how we took them along on all our picnics.” If creepy crawlies creep you out, then have I got the book for you… and you’ll just have to keep reading to find out if the spiders are grateful.  The larger-than-life, intelligent, pseudo-psychic spiders in Sarah Pinborough‘s Breeding Ground truly epitomize my greatest fears about bugs! Pinborough creates an atmosphere perfect for hostile takeover. So it’s my #1 must-read for Halloween! Read on… if you dare!  Tune in tomorrow, as we have a great interview with Sarah, and we’ll be giving away a copy of Breeding Ground to one lucky commenter!

PROLOGUE

I wish I could tell you that I saw lights in the sky. Or shooting stars that turned out to be alien spaceships falling to earth. That’s how Armageddon stories normally start, isn’t it? Some great portent signaling the oncoming doom, some clue that They have done this to us, whether the guilty party are the Russian They, the American They, the British They, or the all-time favourite, the They from outer space.

I don’t know why it started. I don’t know if it was the work of the government, a visit from space or an act of God. If I had to put money on it, I’d pick the first option; after all, they never stop adding chemicals to food and there was always going to be payback. But at the end of the day, I don’t know why it started, and even if I did it wouldn’t make a damned bit of difference now, would it?

My name is Matthew Edge, and at some point last year, the end of the world as we know it started. And I figure my version of events is going to be as clear a record as anyone’s, so here goes. I hope that you’ll read this through to the end. I hope there’s a you out there to read it, and hell, I hope that I’m still alive when you finish, and I hope I get to shake your hand adult to adult, once you’re born and grown into a person of this new world. Hope is all we have, after all, isn’t it? Some things will never change.

CHAPTER ONE

“I can’t believe it! I’ve put on three pounds!”

When Chloe called out from the bathroom I was still in bed, lazily enjoying the extra half an hour I had left before work pulled me into the outside world. I grinned at her indignant exclamation. She was hardly what anyone would call fat. Huffing, she padded back into our bedroom, dressed in only her knickers. She looked perfect to me, all slim curves and soft skin. Pulling the pillow next to me under my chin, I raised an eyebrow.

“Oh no, not a whole three pounds.”

She flashed her dark eyes. “You’re not funny, you know, Matt.” A familiar twitch in her chin betrayed her humour. “That’s five pounds I’ve put on in two weeks. God, at this rate not even my underwear will fit me in a month.”

“Now that’s a thought.” And it really was an image that sent tingles down my spine. We’d been together for five years, outlasting all our friends’ twentysomething relationships, and at the ripe old age of twenty-nine the sight of her naked body was still a glorious thing to me. To most men, I’d reckon. She was way too good for me, but until she noticed I had no intention of telling her. I ran my eyes over her. “Hmmm. I can just imagine you in a nice executive business suit with nothing on underneath. Except perhaps hold-ups.”

A flying bra hit me in the face. “Don’t you ever think of anything else?”

“I try not to. I am a man, after all.”

She tucked her blouse into her skirt and smiled. “You certainly are. You’re my man.”

“Come here and give me a kiss, then.”

She perched on the bed and I pulled her forward, ignoring her shriek and then giggle of protest as I rolled her underneath me. Her skin was glowing and as yet free of makeup. She looked gorgeous, smiling up at me with all that love, her hair spread out beneath us on the rumpled bedding, and my heart tightened.

“I love you, Chloe Taylor.”

She touched my face. “I love you too, Matt.”

I kissed her and she kissed me back, our tongues meeting, mine no doubt tasting of sleep and hers of toothpaste, but still within a second or two I could feel myself hardening. Still exploring each other’s mouths as if they were new territory, I tugged at her blouse, needing to feel her naked skin.

“What are you doing? I’ve got to get to work. I’ll be late.” Panting the words, she made an attempt to wriggle free, but it was only halfhearted.

Her shirt undone, I kissed her slim stomach, mumbling my reply. “Yeah, but I won’t. And anyway, I’m thinking of you. What better way to work off those extra pounds?”

“Bastard.”

We smiled through our kisses and then made love.  To my hands and touch there was no sign of any extra weight, not that I’d have cared. Not then. It was beautiful. I got to work five minutes late and she must have been half an hour behind time, but I’ll tell you one thing: we were both smiling on arrival.

Often at night, that flash of memory still runs through my head, painful and sharp. I don’t mind, though. I think it’s important to try and remember Chloe like that. Like she really was. Before everything that came after. Yeah, for others it may have started earlier, but for me that day signaled the beginning of the end. I digress.

Back then, all fourteen months ago, when work and money were what counted in the world, I was a mortgage advisor for a small estate agency on Stony Stratford High Street. It was family-owned, which was its saving grace, and although I’d started out selling houses, Mr. Brown had soon seen that I’d want to move on and he pushed me to learn about mortgages and take over that side of the business. Seems funny to think about now, all that time sitting behind a desk calculating figures to see what people could afford, not ever suspecting that none of those loans would be getting paid back in full, and in the future that was fast approaching, there wouldn’t be any banks left that would care.

The job paid quite well, I didn’t have to travel far and I was content. I’d worked there since I was twenty-two, and although I occasionally felt bored and restless, I wasn’t ambitious enough to move on. It was Chloe who had the big plans and dreams and the drive to fulfill them. She was already making a bit of a name for herself on the local legal circuit as a barrister to look out for, and her salary was more than double mine.

All that and six months younger than me, but I can honestly say I didn’t care. I was proud of her. I wanted her to be happy, and as far as I could tell her work and me did that for her, and that alone made me the luckiest man alive.

We lived in a renovated cottage at the top end of High Street, close enough to walk to all the restaurants and pubs the old coaching town had to offer without either of us having to drive. We would sip wine and beer and laugh together about the days behind and ahead. As lives go, it wasn’t a bad one. We had village life on the edge of a thriving new city, and London was only forty minutes away on a train, just in case we felt like trying to regain our early twenties. We were settled, and that may sound dull to some people, but then I suppose they never had the good luck to settle down with Chloe.

When I got in that evening at six, she was already home, sitting on our oversized, overindulgent sofa, her legs tucked under her, thick Mediterranean hair pulled back in a ponytail. She looked about sixteen, and that made the thoughts running through my head barely legal.

Undoing my tie and top button, I sat down at the other end. “Hey, gorgeous. You’re home early.”

Her eyes flicked momentarily at me and then back to the exposed brick wall above the fireplace. “I didn’t feel well. I came home early. I wasn’t in court this afternoon, so it didn’t really matter.”

She did look tired and pale, and I stroked her hair.

“You work too hard, babe. Why don’t I get you a glass of wine and run you a hot bath?”

“That won’t change it.” She let out a weary sigh. “I went to the doctor on my way home.”

Shuffling in closer, I felt the tension coming from her slim frame, and my heart tightened. Sometimes late at night, when she was sleeping curled up in the crook of my shoulder, I would quietly wonder when it was going to go wrong. It was too good, you see. She was too good for me, and what we had was too special. Maybe everyone in love feels like that, but when it’s a first love that lasts, you can’t help but wonder what may come along to destroy it. She’d been to the doctor. Doctors meant sickness. How ill was she? My mouth dried as a wave of suggested diseases flooded my brain.

“What’s the matter?”

She looked at me and sniffed, her brown eyes impenetrable. Her bottom lip quivered as she spoke.

“I’m pregnant.”

I’m pregnant. The world spun on its head for a moment, then froze as I tried to take it in. The words punching the air from my lungs, the best I could manage was a half-breathless laugh, my flesh tingling at every pore as I stared, no doubt with my mouth half-open and looking like a dribbling idiot, at her beautiful face.

“What?” At last I squeezed out a word. Not a particularly clever or appropriate one, but it was the best I could do, sitting there on the leather sofa, a month or so away from thirty and feeling like a big kid with my heart pounding too hard against my chest.

“I’m pregnant.” Tears welled up, threatening to spill onto her cheeks. “And scared.”

I could feel tears pricking at the back of my eyes, too, and as soon as I could get my body to do as I wanted I pulled her closer to me. “What are you scared for? You’re pregnant.” I paused for a moment, needing to say the words to make it real. “You’re pregnant.” Real was good.

The grin on my face stretched until it almost hurt.

“You’re going to have a baby.” I paused again. “We’re going to have a baby.” I laughed out loud. “We’re going to have a baby, Chloe.” The giggles wouldn’t stop and I sat there chortling to myself. “That’s fantastic!”

 

Staring at me, she pulled back slightly. “Are you sure about this? Are you sure you’re happy about it? I thought you might…well, I thought you might want me not to have it.”

For a moment, the fear crept back into my heart. I’d never really thought about children, not in any imminent way, but now that circumstances had overtaken planning I knew that I wanted this baby to come. It would cement everything that we had. But maybe she didn’t feel that way. After all, it was a bigger step for her. It was she who had the big career ahead of her.  Maybe she felt that her job was more important than a baby right now. The laughing stopped.

“Why? Don’t you want to keep it?”

She smiled hesitantly, flashing her perfect white teeth. “Yes, yes, of course I do, I was just worried you might think it was too soon, that we should be married or—”

My mouth silenced hers and we kissed until the gentleness turned to passion right there on the leather, our child only a few weeks old inside her, our perfect day ending as it had begun.

Western Wednesdays—DAYS OF VENGEANCE

There’s nothing I like better in a good Western than a battle of wits, where the stakes are life and death and you’re praying right along with the protagonist that luck is on his side. Kent Conwell weaves just such a story of deception and mystery in Days of Vengeance. With the following preview, you’ll meet the players and the stage is set for what is sure to be a showdown. But just who’ll come out on top, and at what cost…well, it’s too early to call.

Happy Reading,
Allison Carroll
Dorchester Publishing

Chapter One

Ben Elliott clutched the wound in his shoulder, gritting his teeth against the searing pain. He could feel the warm blood seeping between his fingers. He lay motionless, gasping for breath and peering through a tangle of brittlebush and scrub mesquite at the big man wearing a Union blue uniform. A thick black beard covered the hombre’s face. His kepi was pulled low over his forehead, and a black eye patch covered his left eye.

A cruel grin twisted the renegade’s lips when he spotted Ben. He raised the muzzle of his six-gun and settled the sights on Ben’s forehead.

The wounded Confederate tried to crawl away, but his muscles refused to move. Without warning, the six-gun roared and an orange plume burst from the muzzle.

* * *

The blast of gunfire yanked Ben Elliott from a sound sleep. He stared groggily into the darkness above, reliving the same dream that had haunted him since the war; only this time, it was even more vivid.

Another sharp spatter of gunfire followed by the frightened bawling of cattle jerked him out of his bunk. The rumble of thundering hooves shook the ground.

This was no dream.

Clad only in his red long johns, he grabbed his .44 Colt and raced outside, anger and frustration washing over him. Shadows filled the valley below, flowing across the lighter background of the meadows—thick, dark shadows punctuated by yellow muzzle blasts. He started to throw off a couple slugs, then realized that some of his own nighthawks might be down there trying to turn the stampede.

Charlie Little stumbled to a halt by Ben’s side. “How in the hell they get past our hawks, Ben?” His words formed a frosty question in the chilly night air.

Ignoring Charlie’s question, Ben spun and raced for the barn. “Who in the hell knows,” he shouted over his shoulder.

The rumble of the stampede grew fainter.

Moments later, the two men, bareback astride their ponies, cut across the broad meadows and down into the valley. The pale starlight barely illumined the ground at their feet, but they had no trouble following the thundering herd.

Ben felt an icy hand squeeze his chest when he realized the direction the rustlers had pushed the herd. Suddenly, he knew the answer to one of the questions that had puzzled him since the rustling began some months earlier.

Charlie pulled his roan up beside Ben and yelled over the pounding of the hooves. “The bluff. They’re driving the cattle to the bluff.”

Ben leaned over his pony’s neck and the strong animal bunched his muscles and leaped forward.    

Abruptly, the gunfire ceased, but the thunder of the stampeding herd continued to shake the ground and stir up smothering clouds of choking dust. Ben grimaced and dug his bare heels into his dun’s flanks, driving the large stallion hard, trying to force his will on the laboring animal. He leaned forward, laying his hand against the dun’s lathered neck in an effort to extract every last bit of speed from the gallant pony.

Less than two miles ahead, the meadow ended at the edge of a six-hundred-foot drop to a rocky canyon below.

The dust thickened. The thundering grew louder. The two cowpokes were closing the gap, but as they swept past an ancient, twisted bristle cone pine near the end of the valley, Ben knew they could never reach the herd in time.

* * *

Even in the shade of the front porch of the Slash Bar, the early afternoon breeze was scorching, the chill of the autumn night burned away by the blazing sun. John Wills chewed furiously on the wad of tobacco. He glared at the three men before him, then focused his fiery eyes on Hank Ford, a middle-aged rancher whose body had gone to fat. That Hank had come to prefer good food to hard work was no secret.   

The gray whiskers on Wills’s jaw bristled as he shifted the chaw of tobacco into one cheek so he could speak. “There ain’t no way I’m selling the Slash Bar, Hank Ford. You got cockleburs for brains if you think I’m giving up ever’thing I worked for.”

 Hank Ford hitched his gun belt up over his belly and glared back at John Wills. “Reckon that’s up to you, John. That band of rustling Comancheros is going to rob us blind.” He looked at Chester Lewis who was squatting next to the front door staring at the plank porch beneath his feet. “What about you, Ches?”

Chester Lewis, a lanky, dried-up Rebel who came to Arizona Territory to start anew after the War of Secession, shifted his squat from one foot to the other and shrugged. “I … I don’t reckon I can say. I ain’t really thought that much about it.”

J. Albert Barnett, a giant of a man dressed in a hand-tailored suit, was as out of place with the other three ranchers as a crib-girl in a church choir. His polished shoes reflected the sun, and his plate-size hands held his western hat, a solid white Stetson, his one concession to the blistering Arizona sun.     

Barnett had listened patiently to the discussion, his face a mask of amused tolerance. “That’s smart, Ches. A man shouldn’t make hasty decisions he might later regret.”

Jowls flopping, Hank Ford shook his head adamantly, and his belly popped back over his gun belt. “Ches, you and John there is askin’ for trouble. We all been hit two, three times by them rustlers. If Pickett and Weems was here, they’d tell you the same thing. We’re crazier than popcorn on a hot stove to try and hang on.” He paused and looked to the south across the grassy pastures and tall pines. “Where’s Ben? I thought he said he’d be here. After all, he’s been hit harder than any of us. How much has he lost, a hundred, two hundred head?”

John Wills grunted. “Thereabouts.”

“And you, Ches. At least seventy-five or so. Ain’t that right?” Before Ches could reply, Hank continued, pointing a fat finger at John Wills. “John, you probably lost about as much as Ben. Leland Pickett says he’s lost sixty or seventy. Colly Weems says about the same.” He pulled off his wide-brimmed hat and wiped his forehead with his bandanna. “All I’m gettin’ at, boys, is that unless we do something soon we gonna have nothin’ thanks to them Comancheros, and then the bank’ll take our places.” He jammed the bandanna in his hip pocket for emphasis.

Wills spoke up. “Dammit it, we don’t know them rustlers is Comancheros, Hank. That’s just the talk. Nobody’s ever cornered one of them.”

Ford grunted and nodded to Barnett. “Maybe so.” He poked his finger in his own chest. “Me, I’m at the little end of the horn … up to my neck in mortgages at the bank.” He looked around at Barnett. “I can’t hold on, and I sure ain’t ashamed to take Albert’s offer of two dollars a head andtwo fiftyan acre.”

John Wills snorted. “It ain’t a fair price. That’s what I paid for this spread eight years ago, Hank. What about the time and effort I put in. You’re loco to even consider an offer like that.” The crusty old rancher glared up at Barnett. “No offense intended, Albert, but your price ain’t nowhere near fair, all things considered.”

The well-dressed rancher nodded. When he spoke, his voice was smooth as oil. “You’re right, John. It isn’t a fair price, but you got to remember the risk I’m taking. Two dollars might not be much for stock, but if I buy your beef and those rustlers hit my place, I lose not only the cattle but I’m out whatever I paid for them.”

Hank Ford grunted. “Well, I’m taking Albert’s offer. I want something for all the work I done.” He looked at Ches Lewis. “What about you, Ches? You decide anything?”

Ches unfolded his lanky frame from his squat next to the front door of John Wills’s ranch house. He cleared his throat. “I … I don’t know, Hank. I got ever’ cent and eight years in the place. I don’t really know. Don’t seem right to chuck everything.”

Hank grinned sadly. “At least, you’d have something, Ches. We keep on going like this and every last one of us will be busted flat. I ain’t stupid. I’m selling out, and if you fellers was smart, you’d get rid of your spreads as fast as you can.”

Pushing himself away from the porch post against which he had been leaning, John Wills growled. “Not me. Not while I’m alive.” Tobacco dribbled down the sides of his lips and stained his gray beard. He spread his legs and doubled his fists. “And you, Ches Lewis. You don’t have nothing under your hat but hair if you listen to this hogwash falderal Hank is passing out.”

Hank Ford snorted. “Now, dammit, John, what I say makes sense. If you wasn’t so hardheaded, then …”

John spun on the large bellied rancher. “You go straight to hell, you fat—”

The drumming of hooves interrupted the argument. As one, all four ranchers turned to see Ben Elliott emerge from a forest of golden aspens and into the lush meadow of blue stem, a quarter of a mile below the ranch house.

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Fresh from the produce section!

Although the name might suggest, there’s nothing rotten in Denmark today, fellow film enthusiasts and blog lurkers! Rotten Tomatoes is a website for critics to take aim at some of the best (and worst) film releases. Now, don’t go hurrying to your local corner store for half a dozen of these succulent, serviceable fruits. I bear far more exciting news!

Do you recall when we posted the trailer for the film adaptation of Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee’s The Woman last week? Well, the results are here! Weighing in at an impressive 81% positive rating, critics heralded The Woman‘s film debut as nothing short of “disturbing, lurid, and perverse”—in the best way possible! V.A. Musetto of the New York Post goes on to say “horror buffs, especially fans of Ketchum, will be overcome with joy and excitement.”

The Woman is described as “excitingly unique, deeply disturbing, and beautifully macabre” according to Dustin Putman. “[Approaching] an almost Lynchian type of unsettling nightmare.” Dorchester couldn’t be happier with the surge of appreciation from film aficionados. In the words of Bill Gibron, this “surreality to celebrate” may yet become the next cult classic.

Why not make it a double feature this Halloween? Pop the popcorn and save those rotten tomatoes for another evening by curling up with a copy of The Woman. You won’t be disappointed!

Signing off,

Jillian—The Zombie Intern

All About Audio(books)—H.P. LOVECRAFT

The Dark Worlds of H.P. Lovecraft are perhaps the perfect treat this Halloween season. Six volumes of short stories filled with suspense, intrigue, horror, myth, cosmicism, and the arcane by a writer Stephen King has called “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.” Add to that the aesthetics of oral story telling, and you have yourself the perfect scary story for the campfire.

Treat yourself with to a sample listen of “Haunter of the Dark” from volume five of the Dark Worlds collection, a story from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, in which Lovecraft spars with a character created by his contemporary, Robert Bloch. Layered and complex, “Haunter of the Dark” pulls you in from the first line. “I have seen the dark universe yawning…where the black planets roll without aim…where they roll in their horror, unheeded, without knowledge or luster or name.”

Visit Maynard and Sims’s ghostly BLACK CATHEDRAL

As All Hallows’ Eve approaches, disturbing reports have begun to surface around the globe. The ficticious tales of horror that so many readers enjoy, particularly during this ominous time of year, are often born from the imaginations of their authors, but some are born elsewhere. Some’s true origins lay in fact. Today we share the beginnings of just such a tale, that of Black Cathedral, brought to you by two masters of the realm of horror, Maynard and Sims.  

Chapter One

It was what had happened here, and what was about to happen again, that made it obvious this was the start of it all.

There was nothing very special about the house—a medium sized English suburban semi-detached, built some time in the 1930s, complete with bay windows and a stained glass panel depicting sunrays, set in the solid green-painted front door, so that it looked like sunlight captured on grass; nothing much to set it apart from its neighbors. Except for what had happened there.

The tree lined avenue was the picture of normality; cars parked either side against the neat verges, hedges precisely clipped, a child’s bicycle on a front drive, the sound of an electric mower buzzing like a sun lazed bee. The house they were visiting looked welcoming, and would have been a pleasant place to spend the afternoon. Except for what was going to happen again.

Robert Carter hesitated, pushed open the front door and, after taking a deep inward breath, stepped into the house. Sian Davies, his assistant, followed close behind, her pad in hand, pen poised to take down notes and to keep an accurate record of events as they unfolded. Both of them were certain events would unfold.

Carter carried a small device, holding it out in front of him, sweeping the air in broad strokes, like a warrior brandishing his sword. The device looked very much like a photographer’s light meter. It was no more than three inches square and an inch deep. On one end was a small white dome, on the front a dial with calibrations from one to one thousand. But while a photographer’s meter measured light, Carter’s machine could detect the slightest changes, the tiniest fluctuations, in magnetic fields. Perfect for suspected hauntings.

Carter was thirty-five, tall and slim with an athletic physique he owed to the four hours a week he spent at the gym, combined with regular games of squash and racquets. The exercise was complemented by a healthy diet, apart from far too many cigarettes, a light intake of alcohol, and occasional sex with willing partners.

Sian Davies had none of these attributes, and none of the virtues of a healthy lifestyle. She was short, dumpy, with spiky black hair and a small tattoo of a rose on her shoulder. And she had a crush on Robert Carter the size of a small country. Yet despite their close working relationship, Carter was a total mystery to her. There were rumors of a great love affair—some forbidden passion that had ended and left Carter a scarred, emotional wreck. Some of the rumors had even linked him with Jane Talbot, Department 18’s brightest star, but Sian was not sure she set much store by them. She liked and respected Jane Talbot—aspiring in her own small way to be like her—and she knew Jane was happily married.

Sian was worldly enough to know that men like Robert Carter were always the targets for the mythmakers and rumormongers. The scurrilous stories told around the Department’s water coolers were fed and nurtured by jealousy and envy. Sian preferred her own fantasies. They sustained her during long lonely nights and gave her a reason to get up every morning. Often they weren’t the type of fantasy to share around the coffee machine at work.

“Ambient temperature in the house low and dropping rapidly.” Carter was speaking into a small microphone attached to the collar of his shirt and wired to a digital recorder he carried in his jacket pocket. As if to prove his point his breath was starting to mist in front of his face. There was also an oppressive atmosphere in the house. An atmosphere that couldn’t be measured with meters but one that was almost palpable.

He trusted the readings on the various instruments he carried, and when they read that there were disturbances in the electromagnetic fields and unusual fluctuations in temperature he knew he had something definite to deal with. The instruments had their uses, but more often than not he preferred to rely on his own feelings; the vibes—primitive instincts inherited from mankind’s prehistoric ancestors, so dulled in the majority of people to be absolutely worthless. In him they were honed to razor sharpness. So much so that he rarely began an investigation like this without careful preparation, building his mental defenses as carefully as a bricklayer builds a wall. Sometimes he worried he had built the wall so high, so strong, that nothing could penetrate it, not even if he wanted it to.

The house had been decorated some time in the 1970s, but the browns, yellows and pinks had faded with age and looked more muted now than when they were first applied. The Fleming’s, the owners of the house, were a couple in their seventies, both retired. It was Mrs. Fleming who had taken the steps to bring in the Department. Her younger brother was high up in the Whitehall pecking order, and a frantic phone call to him had set the wheels in motion. Another phone call was made to Department 18’s head, Simon Crozier, with the request that the Department investigate the house. In deference to the request, Carter—the Department’s top field man—had been sent’, even if Crozier did hate his guts.

Carter reviewed the file in his mind. Six months ago the couple started hearing things that disturbed their prosaic little life. At first it was nothing more than a few scratches on the ceiling, the odd footfall on the bedroom floor when they were both downstairs, but nothing that couldn’t be explained away rationally; a loose board settling into place, birds or mice setting up home in the eaves of the house, nothing to be alarmed about. They were both getting old and the mind could play tricks.

The smells were more alarming. According to the Flemings, the kitchen was often filled with the reek of ozone that smelled something like an electrical short circuit. In the lounge it was the odor of sour cream, and in the bedrooms the musty mud and straw smell of an animal pen. But it was the entrance hall that had the most distinctive and most repellent aroma. Mrs. Fleming described it as ‘the smell of something washed up on a beach; dead and rotten’ and, standing there in the hall, Carter had to agree. ‘God, it stinks in here,’ he said. Sian made a note in her pad.

The needle on the meter twitched significantly, leaping a quarter of the way around the dial. He frowned. “There’s a huge amount of electromagnetic energy coming from the kitchen. Let’s go take a look.”

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The Horrors of Department 18 Exposed

The horrors of Department 18 exposed
By Paige Turner

Hertfordshire, UK (AFP)—What was recently reported as a domestic disturbance at a downtown apartment block that resulted in three deaths looks to have been a cover-up for something far darker. An eye witness has stepped forward with an account of the ‘disturbance’ that is greatly different from the official police report. Much of the facts of the case have been sealed, not by local law enforcement, but by a government agency simply referred to as “Department 18.” While this department volunteered no comment when contacted, sources have led to two researchers, Len Maynard and Mick Sims, who have had past dealings with the government agency in question. I was able to meet with them briefly and what they had to say was quite shocking.

I had to agree to meet up with them in a bar in an out-of-town suburb. The booth they had chosen was at the back, presumably an exit within easy reach. They sat facing the doors so they could see who was coming in. Throughout the interview one of them talked while the other was clearly keeping a watchful eye out for…well, for what, or for whom?

Q. When did you first discover the existence of Department 18?

It was while we were writing Black Cathedral. It mentioned, almost in passing, Department 18. This was something we had heard about in whispered conversations in and around the restaurants and bars of London.

We then, over a period of a few months, became aware that we were being—what should we say? We were being ‘watched.’ We became aware our phones were being hacked, people were seen outside our houses, our friends and families reported being contacted about us.

So Department 18 exists, so far as we know. In Whitehall in London, near where the Guards in their Bearskin hats and the Changing Of the Guard and Buckingham Palace all get photographed every day, are some palatial offices where tea does get drunk, and investigations do take place.

We didn’t realise by mentioning it in our novel that there would be quite such a fuss. We didn’t think when we got our website www.maynard-sims.com updated that linking to the www.dept18.com website would mean attention on this scale.

Q. In Night Souls and Black Cathedral, you reveal to the public a variety of paranormal activity going on in the world today as well as the inner workings of a secret government agency that works to protect society from any dangers these activities pose. Why did you decide to go public with these events and Department 18’s involvement in them?

When you gradually realize that your own government is keeping tabs on you it makes you more than paranoid. It can’t be true because the government is there to protect us. That’s what everyone is encouraged to believe.

Every time you hit on www.dept18.com, even if out of curiosity, then a file is opened up on you and you come under their scrutiny.

When we knew Black Cathedral was making many waves in high places, and Night Souls would make that worse, we decided to investigate as many paranormal events as we could find. Not only in England and the U. S. A. but worldwide. It was eye-opening. So many events that conspiracy theorists get castigated about are in fact linked to the Department and many have supernatural origins.

Q. Night Souls reports on Department 18’s discovery of the existence of the Breathers, a species of vampire-like creatures that feed on human souls. Do you expect people to be able to look past their pop culture-infused ideas about vampires and take the necessary steps to protect themselves?

We think the Spiraci, or Breathers, are the Vampires of the 21st Century. Ironic, really, when they have been around for centuries. They are the iVampires if you like, the bloodsuckers for the SmartPhone generation.

Certainly the Breathers encompass all modern trends, and always have, to ensure they keep up a steady stream of ‘candidates’ for their ‘restaurants.’ If they have to masquerade as rock gods to get what they want, then they will. If they have to don Armani to infiltrate the upper echelons of society then they do that as well. You only have to look at news clips and videos from past decades and you’ll see them in the background, mingling with the crowds. Look at film of the Stones at Altamont. Look at the crowds in Dallas.

Everyone should protect themselves against them, but thanks to Department 18, no one will get to hear about them. Only through Night Souls reaching readers can the public be made aware of how much danger we are all in.

Q. From the events told in Black Cathedral, clearly the men and women of Department 18 are willing to risk their lives to overcome these paranormal threats. While once a much more public unit, the Department’s operations are now very secretive. Does the public have anything to fear from Department 18? Does it help or hurt the Department’s cause to work unseen in the shadows?

The origins of Department 18 can be traced back to a meeting in 1922 between Fletcher Pressman, the munitions millionaire, and Genevieve Madison, an American medium, well-known in the United States for her work in the field of psychic research, and equally for a series of exposes of fake mediums and clairvoyants.

During the Second World War their services were called upon by the War Office. Hitler was rumoured to be dabbling in the occult and especially black magic, and so Pressman, Madison, and their team were given the role of advisers to the SIS, the Special Intelligence Service.

Pressman died from a heart attack in 1944. It was a blow from which Genevieve Madison never recovered and, immediately after the war, she went back home to America where she died eighteen months later. Rather than disband the team, the government initiated a special department to carry on the investigations into paranormal phenomena.

Q. You recently discovered that Department 18 has case files open on both of you. Have you ever been contacted directly by a Department agent in regards to the cases you’ve made public in Night Souls and Black Cathedral?

(At this point both Maynard and Sims demanded we move bars. I don’t know if they saw something or if the question was too raw for them. We took to our vehicles and drove a complicated back and forth route to another bar in a different part of town. When we were seated in a booth that suited them, we ordered steaks, burgers, some Sam Adams and Smirnoff, then we got started again.)

Len was nearly led into a ‘honey trap’ by a female Department operative. He was contacted discreetly at work and a relationship began to build that seemed perfectly natural and normal. After a few dates he became suspicious. She never talked about herself much, never wanted to go back to her place, and had no family photos to show.

It was when she began to ask detailed and pressing questions about Len’s writing that he became aware that this lady was more than she purported to be. She took the break up badly, was persistent in trying to get back with him, but when he in turn followed her, as best he could—after all we have had no covert training—he found her pressing the buzzer of a building in Whitehall London. She was Department 18.

Mick was at a cocktail party in London when two apparently friendly business types engaged in what became a long and increasingly personal discussion about Mick’s political beliefs. It was when they asked if he would be interested in joining a certain charitable organization that Mick made a polite exit for the buffet. Shrimp was good.

Q. In your opinion, should Department 18 be doing more to educate the public about paranormal activity?

Simon Crozier says, “We at D18 now tend to operate beneath the public radar. Although we are a part of the Civil Service, and accountable to the usual government committees and ministries, we work in the same kind of netherworld that MI’s 5 and 6 inhabit. At the end of the day, whether they are aware of us or not, I like to think that we work in the public’s best interests, and that has to be our primary concern.”

That is a lot of baloney. They keep things secret because it suits them to do so. If the public became aware of half what they get up to there would be an outcry.

Q. Have any new cases surfaced that you’re researching?

There are several cases on the www.dept18.com site that refer to stories of ours that have been published over the past 30 years. Although, on the site it states that “these cases have been cleared for wider dispersal.” This is in fact a lie, as access to them triggers a link being made to the accessing computer and from that moment onwards you are theirs. This is a typical excerpt from one of their files (CASE STUDY: D18 / 3257 / 2005) NOTE—this story (as with many other cases, has been written up as a piece of fiction by LH Maynard (see NOTE 1953) & MPN Sims (see NOTE 1952) as a short story ONION and was published in a fiction anthology THE SECOND BLACK BOOK OF HORROR. This is edited by a Charles Black (ACTION—research and ascertain details of Mr Black.)

Even more worrying are the personal files they have compiled on us. Here is CASE STUDY D18 2008 / 39M P N SIMS / Michael Philip Norman Sims was born in New Cross London in December 1952. He moved to Enfield in 1956—see case 38. He met Maynard in 1964 in Enfield Middlesex. Father dies in late 50’s leaving widow. Mother dies after long Alzheimers aged 71. Has brother, seems unrelated to investigation. Has wife and daughter. All 3 close family live in ——— in Hertfordshire. Michael appears to have done reasonably at his schooling, leaving at 19 and began work in banking where he is still employed. This may be a mask for his real activities. Since age 21 Sims has written supernatural stories. Many mirror to a specific degree known and recorded D18 investigation. NOTE—is Sims privy to Department data? In 1979 with Maynard, Sims had his first book published SHADOWS AT MIDNIGHT. And so it goes on.

Q. Would you ever consider working with/for the Department?

I think this conversation is over. Have you ever been to London? Why are you asking all these questions anyway? Do you know Robert Carter?

At this point in the interview both Maynard and Sims stood and left the bar, using a side exit. I watched them get into a rented Buick and drive off into the night. Clearly my last question had spooked them.

I have to add, though, that they had thrown enough bills onto the table to enable me to order a very nice Key Lime Pie for dessert and still leave a decent tip.

It seems clear to me, reviewing their responses, that there is something deeply sinister in Department 18. Whether these two authors are at risk of personal harm, I can’t say.

But what I would say without hesitation is that the public has a right to know. I for one aim to get Department 18 out of the shadows by shining a very bright light on them.

Western Wednesdays—RANSOM by Frank Roderus + Giveaway

A kidnapping forces two enemies to work together in Ransom, a high-octane ride by the legendary Frank Roderus.  Now, usually I preview at least the entire first chapter, but I’m cutting this one short—for good reason. You’ll get a look at the two rivals, but I’m holding back a meet-and-greet with the woman that stands between them. So as to judging the true merits of these men and their conflict, you’ll have to dive into the whole of Ransom. Shameless ploy? Maybe, but I’m also offering a chance to win a paperback copy of Ransom. How ’bout it—what are some love triangles done right? Done wrong?

Happy Reading,
Allison Carroll
Dorchester Publishing

 Chapter one

A small, nattily dressed man came around the corner onto Hardesty Street. John Taylor saw him and immediately shrank back into the doorway of Swofford’s Farm and Ranch Supply. Taylor grimaced and hissed, “That son of a bitch.” His knuckles turned white from the force of his grip on the handle of the hammer in his hand. “Bastard,” he whispered. He felt an impulse to rush out into the street and use the hammer to smash Richard Hahn’s head.

“Did you say something, John?”

“I … no, Mr. Swofford. I didn’t say nothing.”

“Oh well.” The owner of the business hesitated, then gave Taylor a weak smile. “When you’re done repairing that facing, John, I have some paint in here for it.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll only be a few minutes more on this. Figure I can put on the first coat soon as I’m done pounding nails an’ the second coat this afternoon after lunch. How would that be, sir?”

A wagon rattled past, empty judging by the way the wheels bounced off the ruts they rolled over. The driver, Dean Caligan, raised a hand in greeting although whether to Taylor or to Swofford, John was not sure. Perhaps to both.

Taylor returned the gesture, Swofford did not.

“Fine, John. Fine,” Swofford said, sounding like he did not particularly mean it. He turned and went back into his store.Taylor peered into the street. All he could see of Hahn now was a glimpse of the SOB disappearing into the bank.

An image projected itself into Taylor’s mind, an image so vivid and unsettling that his knees buckled and he reeled back against the door frame that he was working on. The image was of Jessie. Jessica Taylor, damn it. Taylor. Not Hahn. Never would be Hahn if he had anything to say about it. He visualized Jessie lying naked, the way he had seen and loved her so many times through the course of their marriage. In his mind’s eye she lay open, loving, inviting. But the man she was inviting into herself was Richard goddamn Hahn.

Taylor squeezed his eyes tight shut against images he only imagined, but they remained. He could see them. Could hear Jessie’s little whimpers and moans. The way she used to sound for him. For him, damn it, for him. He could imagine Hahn…

John’s breathing quickened and his grip on the hammer tightened all the more. For one ugly moment his impulse to charge across the street and crush Hahn’s miserable skull was almost overwhelming.

“John.” Swofford had to repeat himself several times before he finally got Taylor’s attention.

“Sir?”

“Are you all right, John? You’re pale as a ghost. Are you sick?”

“No, sir.” Angry. Sick to his furthest depths, he thought. But he said nothing.

“If you’re not feeling well, John, you can finish this tomorrow. No harm done if you’d like to wait until then.”

“No, sir, I … I’m fine. Really.”

“If you say so. But if you change your mind, just let me know.”

“Thank you, Mr. Swofford. I’m all right. Really I am.”

“Very well. I’ll be inside if you need me.” He returned to his sales counter to be available if he was needed there.

Two of the town’s respectable married ladies came by. They entered the store, their skirts swirling and trailing a delicate scent of powder. There was already one of the less respectable women shopping in there. That could lead to fireworks but probably would not. Each would ignore the other and very soon the soiled dove would fly out into the street and away to the edge of town where her kind stayed.

John crept a few feet forward, out toward the sidewalk, until he could see the front of the bank. There was no sign there of Hahn. No sign anywhere of Jessie. He felt, quite suddenly, like crying. But grown men of thirty-six with a wife and a child do not cry. Never mind where that wife and that child happened to be living at the moment. Never mind that the low-life son of a bitch Hahn was half John Taylor’s size. Never mind the fact that John could break Hahn in half without raising a sweat and then break those pieces in half too. Lordy, he did want to do that. He would have too except for the fear of what Jessie might do if he maimed the bastard.

John regained control of his emotions, plucked a light finish nail out of the pocket of his canvas carpenter’s apron, and went back to the job Mr. Swofford had hired him to do.

As expected, the lass of the evening came hustling out with her eyes brimming with unspilled tears and her cheeks red.

John whacked the finish nail. Hard.

* * *

Dick Hahn smiled and leaned across Randall Bonner’s handsome desk. He accepted the papers the bank president handed him, fussily straightened them even though they were already straight, then slipped them into his folio and fastened the soft leather folio shut. “Thank you, Mr. Bonner. Seventeen hundred this quarter, hmm? The bank is doing well.”

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Pardon the Interruption—THE WOMAN, now a major motion picture!

The film adaptation of The Woman by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee premiered at Sundance with an explosive reception. The buzz continues on a grand scale after the theatrical release last Friday, October 14th.  Directed by co-author Lucky McKee, the film captures the horror and humor of a rural family’s attempt to ‘civilize’ the matriarch and last surviving member of a clan of cannibals. Check out the trailer for the film below!

 

The Woman by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee available in paperback.

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